Now welcome, Summer, with thy sunne soft …
That hast this winter’s weather overshake
And driven away the longe nightes black.
A few minutes ago, eight of us stood in the middle of a labyrinth outside an Episcopal church to sing these lines from Chaucer at the moment of Summer Solstice, 9:39 Pacific Daylight Time. It was not part of the Sunday liturgy, just one of my personal rituals to welcome my favorite season, and I found a few willing recruits to join in. Another of my Solstice rituals is to read Wallace Steven’s “Credences of Summer,” an eloquent tribute to the longest day when “spring’s infuriations are over,” summer mind enjoys a refuge from time’s flow and “the roses are heavy with a weight / Of fragrance and the mind lays by its trouble.”
With Charleston, climate change and endless war, not to mention the relentless pressures of a 24/7 culture, how do we lay by our troubles for a season, a day or even a moment? Adam Gopnik, in an old New Yorker essay, dismissed the idyllic summer images of unhurried pleasure as a national mythology. “We make up in symbolism what we lack in spare time. Summer in America is another place, to be dreamed of rather than remembered … Summer is about longing for summer.”
So is summer – or even the idea of summer – under threat of extinction? Or can we preserve and nurture a summer mind, a summer practice in ways both large and small? Can we take time to savor the gifts of the moment, kissing the joy as it flies? Can we give all our attention, now and then, to the “eternal foliage” of being?
It’s like prayer and meditation. Make time for it, and the quality of everything else is transformed. And what Rabbi Abraham Heschel said of the Sabbath applies equally to summer:
To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence from external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow human beings and the forces of nature – is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for human progress than the Sabbath?
On the shore of Minnesota’s Lake Pepin, where my father enjoyed many mythological summers in his youth, the Friedrichs who live there now fly a flag from May to September. Its motto reads: “Doing nothing is always an option.” Can I hear an ‘Amen?’
May your summer days, your summer moments, your summer places be many. May you and your people sustain a golden habitat for this glorious season.
And in these first hours of summer, what better invocation than James Wright’s poem, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”:
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.